The capital town of Kosala in India and one of the six great Indian cities during the lifetime of the Buddha (D.ii.147). It was six leagues from Sāketa (Vin.i.253; seven according to others, DhA.i.387), forty-five leagues north west of Rājagaha (SA.i.243), thirty leagues from Saṅkassa (J.iv.265), one hundred and forty-seven from Takkasilā (MA.ii.987), one hundred and twenty from Suppāraka (DhA.ii.213), and was on the banks of the Aciravatī (Vin.i.191, 293). It was thirty leagues from Āḷavī (SNA.i.220), thirty from Macchīkāsanda (DhA.ii.79), one hundred and twenty from Kukkuṭavatī (DhA.ii.118), and the same distance from Uggapura (DhA.iii.469) and from Kuraraghara (DhA.iv.106). The road from Rājagaha to Sāvatthi passed through Vesāli (Vin.ii.159 f), and the Parāyanavagga (SN.vss.1011‑13) gives the resting places between the two cities — Setavyā, Kapilavatthu, Kusinārā, Pāvā and Bhoganagara. Further on, there was a road running southwards from Sāvatthi through Sāketa to Kosambī. One quarter of a league (one gāvuta) from the city was the Andhavana (q.v.) Between Sāketa and Sāvatthi was Toranavatthu (S.iv.374).
The city was called Sāvatthi because the sage Savattha lived there. Another tradition says there was a road-side inn there, and people meeting there asked each other what they had “Kiṃ bhandaṃ atthi?” “Sabbaṃ atthi” — and the name of the city was based on the reply (SNA.i.300; PSA. 367).
The Buddha passed the greater part of his monastic life in Sāvatthi. His first visit there was at the invitation of Anāthapiṇḍika. It is said (DhA.i.4) that he spent twenty-five rainy seasons in the city — nineteen of them in Jetavana and six in the Pubbārāma. Sāvatthi also contained the monastery of Rājakārāma (q.v.), built by Pasenadi, opposite Jetavana. Outside the city gate of Sāvatthi was a fisherman’s village of five hundred families (DhA.iv.40).
Sāvatthi is the scene of each Buddha’s Twin Miracles (DhA.iii.205; cf. Mtu.iii.115; J.i.88); Gotama Buddha performed this miracle under the Gandamba (q.v.)
The chief patrons of the Buddha in Sāvatthi were Anāthapiṇḍika, Visākhā, Suppavāsā and Pasenadi (DhA.i.330). When Bandhula (q.v.) left Vesāli he came to live in Sāvatthi.
Buddhaghosa says (Sp.iii.614) that, in the Buddha’s day, there were fifty-seven thousand families in Sāvatthi, and that it was the chief city in the country of Kāsi Kosala, which was three hundred leagues in extent and had eighty thousand villages. The population of Sāvatthi was a hundred and eighty million (SNA.i.371).
Sāvatthi is identified with Sāhet Māhet on the banks of the Rapti (Cunningham, AGI. 469).
Hiouen Thsang found the old city in ruins, but records the sites of various buildings (Beal, op.cit., ii.1‑13).
Woodward states (KS.v.xviii ) that, of the four Nikāyas, 871 suttas are said to have been taught in Sāvatthi; 844 of which are in Jetavana, 23 in the Pubbārāma, and 4 in the suburbs. These suttas are made up of 6 in the Dīghanikāya, 75 in the Majjhimanikāya, 736 in the Saṃyuttanikāya, and 54 in the Aṅguttaranikāya. Mrs. Rhys Davids conjectures (M.iv., Introd., p.vi) from this that either the Buddha “mainly resided there or else Sāvatthi was the earliest emporium (library?) for the collection and preservation (however this was done) of the talks.” The first alternative is the more likely, as the Commentaries state that the Buddha spent twenty-five rainy seasons in Sāvatthi (see earlier), this leaving only twenty to be spent elsewhere. The Buddhavaṃsa Commentary (BuA. p.3) gives a list of these places showing that the second, third, fourth, seventeenth and twentieth were spent in Rājagaha, the thirteenth, eighteenth and nineteenth in Cālikapabbata, and the rest in different places.